The city was founded in the 17th century by Zaporozhian Cossacks. Kryvyi Rih in Ukrainian literally means Crooked Horn; according to local legend, the city was founded along a lake that was in the shape of a crooked horn. During the Russian Civil War, the city and its hinterland were at the nucleus of Nestor Makhno's anarchist insurgency.
The area's industrial growth began in the 1880s, when European investment founded a mining syndicate. The metallurgical works in the city, Kryvorizhstal, in particular, expanded through Soviet times, and now remain some of the largest in the world.